Coronavirus: Italy towns in lockdown, South Korea declares highest alert

Numerous towns in Italy have taken emergency measures to prevent the virus from spreading following the deaths of two people and 80 confirmed cases. South Korea’s president has said it would take “unprecedented” steps.

The Italian government on Saturday said it was considering “extraordinary measures” to fight the coronavirus following the deaths of two citizens. 

The outbreak has also caused Italian authorities to place several towns on lockdown amid an increase in the number of cases to almost 80, as well as the two deaths reported on Friday and Saturday.

The death of a 75-year-old woman on Saturday near the small town of Codogno in Lombardy came just a day after a 78-year-old man succumbed to the virus in the neighboring region of Veneto, marking the first deaths in Italy.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte expressed his sympathies for the two who passed away and said he had called an emergency meeting, as more than 50,000 people from about a dozen towns in two northern regions were asked to stay at home by authorities.

Growing cluster of cases

The cluster was located in a handful of small towns in the Lombardy region, according to the head of regional health, Giulio Gallera.

The first to fall ill from the virus was a 38-year-old Italian who met with someone who had returned from China on January 21, health authorities confirmed.

The 38-year-old is now hospitalized and in critical condition. His wife and a friend of his have also tested positive for the coronavirus.

Tests were being administered on the 38-year-old’s doctor, who paid him a home visit, as well as on 120 people he worked with at the research and development branch of Unilever in the town of Casalpusterlengo, Gallera said.

Three patients at the hospital in Codogno, where he went with flu-like symptoms earlier this week, have also been infected, as have five nurses and doctors.

Scare reaches Milan Fashion Week

A dozen towns in northern Italy are now effectively in lockdown after a growing cluster of cases were reported with no direct links to the origin of the outbreak abroad. Streets were deserted, along with signs announcing the closure of public buildings.

Italian designer Giorgio Armani announced early Sunday that, due to the health risk, his fashion house would hold its Milan Fashion Week runway show behind closed doors. 

Eight more shows are scheduled for Sunday, though it was unclear if all would be held as planned.

Restaurants, schools, emergency rooms closed

The spike in cases also prompted regional authorities to order the closure of schools, businesses and restaurants in Veneto and Lombardy, as well as religious services until further notice.

The prime minister announced Saturday evening that the sports ministry was suspending all sporting events on Sunday, including three Serie A football matches scheduled for Sunday, including Inter Milan’s clash against Sampdoria.

Authorities are considering suspending the Carnival of Venice events currently taking place. 

South Korea declares ‘red alert’

South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced on Sunday that the country has raised its alert over the coronavirus to its highest level. Moon said the government would strengthen its overall emergency response as part of its “red alert.” 

Moon said authorities should take “unprecedented, powerful” measures to contain the coronavirus, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap

The announcement comes after the country reported two more deaths from the coronavirus and 123 new cases on Sunday, bringing the total to 556, having doubled from Friday to Saturday. The two deaths take the nationwide toll to four. 

More than half of the new cases were linked to a Christian church in the city of Daegu in the south of the country, after a 61-year-old woman who attended services there tested positive for the virus. The woman had no recent record of overseas travel. 

The woman, who developed a fever on February 10, attended at least four services at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus before being diagnosed. 

Around 9,300 Shincheonji members in Daegu have either been quarantined or have been asked to stay at home, said Jung Eun-kyeong, director of Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

According to the KCDC, a majority of 309 or 55.6% of the total 556 confirmed cases were connected to the Shincheonji Church.

Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city and a population of 2.5 million, currently has 247 confirmed cases of coronavirus. 

“The crisis level of Daegu and the North Gyeongsang province is grave,” said Mayor Kwon Young-jin. 

The mayor asked all Shincheonji Church members with symptoms to come forward and be tested. Authorities have yet to reach around 670 members.

“Hiding is not the answer. If you hide, it could hurt your health, your family’s health, and will not help in the early cessation of the situation,” Kwon said.

Japan issues apology, Russia denies spreading disinformation

Meanwhile, Japan’s health minister has apologized after a woman, who was allowed to disembark the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess, tested positive for the virus. The woman left the vessel on Wednesday after a two-week quarantine but a follow-up second test revealed she had the virus. Twenty-three other passengers are expected to be re-tested.

“We will take all necessary measures, like double checks, to prevent a recurrence,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said.

Russia, meanwhile, denied all allegations that it is spreading false information on social media that the US started the coronavirus outbreak. 

US officials said thousands of profiles on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were spreading the theory.

“This is a deliberately false story,” foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told Russian news agency Tass

mvb,kp,jsi/mm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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